Jerry Miller, a former army cook who spent nearly 25 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit, became the nation’s 200th person freed from prison or death row through DNA testing. The first DNA exoneration in the U.S. took place in 1989. Thirteen years later, the number of freed inmates reached 100, and just five years after that, it doubled. “Five years ago, people said that the number (of exonerations) was going to dry up because there just weren’t many wrongful convictions. But clearly, there are plenty of innocent persons still in prison. There’s no way you can look at this data without believing that,” said Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project that assisted Miller and helps other prisoners seeking to prove their innocence through DNA evidence. Immediately following Miller’s exoneration, the Innocence Project launched “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted,” a month-long national campaign to address and prevent wrongful convictions.

In 1982, Miller was convicted of raping and kidnapping an office worker in a parking garage in Chicago. Miller, who is black, was identified by two parking lot attendants, who were also black. The victim, who was white, could not identify her assailant. Miller consistently maintained his innocence while he was in prison and continued to insist he was not guilty of the crime even after being paroled last year. While Miller was on parole, he had to register as a sex offender, which required him to wear an electronic monitoring device at all times. New DNA tests performed by the Innocence Project in March 2007 showed that Miller’s genetic profile differed from the rapist’s, proving that he did not commit the crime. Based on this new evidence, the Cook County State Attorney’s Office joined the Innocence Project and the Cook County Public Defender’s Office in a joint motion to vacate and dismiss Miller’s conviction.

Fourteen of the nation’s 200 DNA exonerations have been death penalty cases. According to Scheck, the “typical” DNA exoneration case has not changed much over the past two decades. He noted that it often involves a sex crime allegedly committed by a black man in which the white victim is often the only witness. Most exonerations come from cases from the 1980s and 1990s, before DNA testing was available or widely used. The Innocence Project now has affiliates at law schools and law offices across the nation.

David Lazer, a Harvard University public policy professor who specializes in DNA issues, predicts that improved testing technology and the growing number of attorneys who are pursuing DNA cases should result in a continued increase in the number of exonerations.

(USA Today, April 23, 2007, and Innocence Project Press Release, April 23, 2007). Read the Innocence Project’s Press Release about Jerry Miller’s exoneration. See the Innocence Project’s “200 Exonerated, Too Many Wrongfully Convicted” Web page. See also, Innocence.
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